Formula 1 reveals stunning new car, but can it save the series?
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In the face of television rights debates, the odd lash of internet furore, and ongoing debates about financial sustainability and parity, the 2010s have been a tough decade for Formula 1. It's hoped that the category's new cars, set to debut in 2021, will help set the series on an improved tact.
The iconic series unveiled artworks of its new aerodynamics package overnight, to the applause of most. In a showcase that echoed that of the IndyCar Series' new car a few years ago, the wildly different Formula 1 platform brings in some changes that plenty of drivers and fans have wanted for years.
Along with being more visually swoopy and rounded than the current cars, the new generation Formula 1 aero platform has been designed to reduce 'dirty air' between cars. Also known as aero wash, it's regarded as one of the biggest barriers to entertaining racing that Formula 1 has faced in recent years, as complicated aerodynamics has led to extensive turbulence and reduced downforce in the wake of each leading car — making passing particularly difficult.
While various elements in the aero changes are to be control parts, teams will still have to come up with their own individual design solutions for elements like the front wing, nose, side pods, and rear wing. Other changes worth noting include the move to larger 18-inch wheels equipped with lower-profile tyres. Cars will retain their hybrid turbo powertrains.
“The new rules have emerged from a detailed two year process of examining technical, sporting, and financial issues in order to develop a package of regulations,” said F1 CEO Chase Carey. “We made many changes during the process as we received input by the teams and other stakeholders and we firmly believe we achieved the goals we had set out to deliver.
“These regulations are an important and major step, however, this is an ongoing process and we will continue to improve these regulations and take further steps to enable our sport to grow and achieve its full potential.”
The reduction in dirty air will most likely mean more passing moves and better racing, but it's likely to also come at the expense of out and out speed. The series says that cars are expected to be around three seconds a lap slower than the current cars. For context, that places them on a similar par to the cars from around three years ago.
Perhaps just as big a change are those that sit on the more administrative side of the sport. Formula 1, for the first time ever, will introduce a cost cap to teams for next year in the build up to the new aero regulations. The cap will sit at US$175million. That might sound like an astronomical number, but it pales in comparison to the US$550million that Red Bull were claimed to have spent and the US$591million that Mercedes-Benz were claimed to have spent last year.
It remains to be seen whether the new car will help the racing to the degree that many pundits are hoping. The biggest point in its favour is that, with each team starting out on a clean slate for 2021 and with budgets theoretically kept in check, there's more chance on paper that a team other than the big three of Ferrari, Mercedes, and Red Bull can challenge for race wins.
It'd be a welcome change, given that the last five driver's championships have been claimed by the one marque (with 2019 likely to make it six in a row).
As mentioned earlier, the IndyCar Series underwent a similar switch up in 2018 — adopting a much sleeker and more streamlined tub and aero package. In that case, there was actually a decrease of different race winners (from 10 to eight), but it's worth noting that IndyCar has rarely been impacted by the kinds of bone-crushing singular dominance on show in Formula 1.
Perhaps a better example of fresh regulations shaking things up was the Car of the Future changes in the Supercars Championship for 2013. From 2012, where only four drivers from two teams claimed race wins, the following season with new cars saw 13 different drivers claim victories.
The last time Formula 1 themselves had such a big change in regulations, meanwhile, was in 2014 when V8s were replaced by hybrid turbos. In that case, the change was very curious. The amount of variety in race winners was reduced (from five to three), but the hierarchy in pit-lane was turned upside down.
After four straight seasons of championship glory, Red Bull was overtaken by Mercedes and the current dominant era began. Are we in for a similar change in fortunes come 2021?